Wow. This whole section in Katie’s book, I Need Your Love – Is That True?, is about how our lives are governed by our search for approval from almost everyone we know – and even the strangers we don’t know.

One by one, Katie asks us to question our own thoughts and find out what we really believe about these aspects of seeking approval:

  • Making an impression
  • Pretending to be interested
  • Making yourself more likeable
  • Minding your manners
  • Tact

I love this:

If you haven’t questioned the belief that it’s possible to win people over, and your manipulative charm doesn’t seem to be working, you’ll think there’s something wrong either with you or with your technique (or both). You may buy one of hundreds of self-help books that teach you how to market yourself – for instance, the multimillion-copy best-selling classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. The author’s main suggestion is to make yourself interested in people because, he says, that’s guaranteed to win them over. If you find it difficult to do that, he has an alternative recommendation: Pretend to be interested. How is that done? Smile, remember the names of their children and dogs, write down their birthdays in your organizer so you can send everyone cards, and also pretned to agree with what they say. It’s all about impression management.

Carnegie didn’t stop to ask whether fake interest can win real friendship, because his objective was different: He was teaching a sales technique. And it caught on. You meet the results everywhere. People give you big business-smiles, and you wonder what they want….When someone pretends to be interested in you, do you smile back and pretend to be flattered? Most people cheerily carry on with the playacting, and there’s no problem unless you begin to think there’s any real approval in this behavior. This isn’t friendship – it mimics friendship to get people to do what someone wants. That kind of deception may sell insurance, but what happens when it enters the realms of friendship and your love life?

When you say or do anything to please, get, keep, influence, or control anyone or anything, fear is the cause and pain is the result. Manipulation is separation, and separation is painful. Another person can love you totally in that moment, and you’d have no way of realizing it.

How would I move, act, speak, and decide if I had less concern about what others will think? I see now that I’ve spent all my life in impression management. The gift of my life is that I never really got validated for it. I never had the popular personality, the blond hair, the long legs, the athletic skills, or the plain vanilla inoffensiveness that it required to “win people over”. I had a smile. I discovered this while on an airplane in 1988, headed to Washington DC to perform at the Kennedy Center. A stewardess said to me, “What a BEAUTIFUL smile you have!” It was the first time anyone said it to me. Coming from a total stranger, I trusted it since she couldn’t possibly want anything from me by giving me her compliment. In all the years before that, I had never been complimented for the way I looked. Instead, it had always – since first grade when I was taunted for having the slanty eyes of a Chinese person – been the source of separation and some level of shame that I could never hide, because it was the face I was born with.

I am thankful today for the fact that I could never believe the thought that I needed to make a certain impression. The reason I couldn’t believe the thought is that I could never make the “right” impression. I was too different from too many of the people who surrounded me on a daily basis. Wherever I went, it was obvious that I was not going to fit in with this crowd. It continued after I left Libertyville, Illinois. It continued at Harvard. It continued in medical school. It continued in the business world. And it continues to this very moment. This tells me that this is my reality, my truth, my love. The fact that I never got validated completely is a gift because it means that I have had to keep searching for a better way to live. I could never just settle into the comfortable delusion of thinking that everything was perfect just because I had the approval of people who would pay me money, smile back at me, invite me to join their club, like me for wearing the same clothes, lean on me because I condoned their behaviors.

It has led me to the search for beauty in my own reality. Yesterday, on Thanksgiving Day, I had lunch at a retirement convent for Jesuit nuns. All were over the age of 75. Most were in their 80s and 90s. There were two ladies who were to turn 100 in the next few months. The overarching feeling in this community was joy. There nothing but smiles and clear eye contact and love among these sisters. And yet there were nothing but “problems” if you looked at it from an outsider’s perspective. They were dealing with health problems, pain, decreasing mobility. All were highly educated in their lives, having served as professors at universities, or teachers. Most still stayed active with tutoring, reading, and learning. My favorite room is their art studio, where they paint watercolors for each season of the year and make notecards to sell as fundraisers. After lunch I was told by the nun who invited me there, “Let’s go to the art room. You’re not in any hurry to leave, are you?” Well, it’s true I wasn’t really in a hurry, although I did want to catch the sunset at Half Moon Bay. I ended up going on a walk to see a beautiful gingko tree that was bright lemon yellow, about to shed its leaves. And I thought California had no fall colors! This is the first year I am noticing all the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows that fill our tree-lined streets right now. Why hadn’t I ever seen them before? I was stuck in the belief that “We don’t have fall colors in California.” So of course I never bothered to look.

I sat for about half an hour tying ribbons around the packages of notecards that would be going on sale next week at the school’s holiday gift bazaar. If a 93-year-old nun and her siblings – both in their 80s – could tie ribbons, so could I. On the way out, we met several other nuns who stopped to chat with us. No one ever just walks by another person without looking at them or saying hello. And actually hello is not usually enough either. People stop, introduce themselves, shake hands, and learn something about each other. I became “the talented violin lady” and everyone instantly recognized who I was. The one with the children. The one who’s coming back next week to give the most anticipated event of their year. One of the nuns was an artist, and wanted to show me her paintings. A true artist, when I asked her about her approach and what she was thinking about when she did each one, she’d just say, “Oh, I wanted to just play.” And that’s how it really happens. She showed me the desk where she works, sitting in front of a large picture window facing the courtyard and a beautiful tree. She lived in a single room, very spacious with her own bathroom. Yes, she was blessed. It was just thanksgiving day, like every day at the convent.

I finally left at around 3:30. There was still plenty of light, and I felt light from having been surrounded by such joy. And then I set off for Half Moon Bay, with Mary, my artist/writer/photographer friend who is leaving the country in just about ten days. We stopped at the beach before heading to the Ritz-Carlton. I thought the hotel would either be empty or packed. Turned out it was packed. Lots of families with miserable children dressed in suits and ties and being forced to eat in a hotel ballroom packed with round tables, cheap chairs, and “autumn” decorations like hay bales, baskets of apples, and ears of Indian corn. In the center, a cheesy live music trio doot-doot-dooted away to keep the atmosphere from being as deadly as it all looked.

We found a nook in one of the side rooms of the lobby which has been converted into a wine-tasting area since I last visited. Technically there was no table service where we were (according to the hostess lady). So I went up to the bar and asked if they make hot chocolate. And I pointed out to the bartender where we were sitting. “I’ll bring it up to you,” he said. Wow! I thought. We really can be served! This was perfect. When he brought out our drinks, we went ahead and ordered French fries. They were fine, but we didn’t know what good could be until our bartender brought out an entire other order of fries for us, saying, “Well, we just had some more.” How sweet he was! He probably saw two lovely ladies drinking non-alcoholic beverages on a Thanksgiving night and said, “That’s sweet.” He actually said, “Is this your Thanksgiving dinner, then? Hot chocolate and French fries?” We laughed, saying yes it was. And we loved it!

We sat there for hours, doing The Work, telling stories of how we had shifted situations in our lives by starting to do The Work, and then just stories in general. About life transitions. Moving on. Accepting reality as it is. Learning. Creating. Telling stories. People. Ultimately we were thankful for exactly where we are, because of exactly what we had been through.

I am thankful because now I can end each day by thinking of the gifts each day brought me. I can find those gifts in my life. I can see them in seemingly small moments that may not have made an impression on anyone but me. They are gifts I receive from my own perceptions. They are the gifts that are slowly freeing me to be what I have always been.

Here are just a few of the gifts of my Thanksgiving Day: